|Possible North Korean refugee facing deportation to China and repatriation to North Korea by the Government of Sweden|
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Possible North Korean refugee facing deportation to China and repatriation to North Korea by the Government of Sweden
• A 17-year-old boy claiming to be a street child from North Korea is facing imminent deportation to China by the Swedish authorities.
A 17-year-old boy who is likely a North Korean refugee is facing deportation to China by the government of Sweden. China regularly repatriates North Korean refugees where they are subjected to torture and inhumane punishment, including execution. Such deportation would violate the UN Refugee Convention. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) urges the government of Sweden to refrain from deporting this child to China. NKHR also urges the government of South Korea take a proactive stance and ask for the boy to be deported to South Korea instead of China if he cannot remain in Sweden.
The Swedish Migration Agency rejected the boy’s claim that he is from North Korea and denied his application for asylum. The boy says he escaped North Korea through China, travelled across Russia, and eventually found himself in Sweden. Prior to escaping from North Korea at the age of 16, he lived as a kkotjebi, or street child, he says. The Swedish Migration Agency, however, believes the boy is from China. They intend to deport him thereupon his 18th birthday in March, if not sooner.
The child has been embroiled in this legal battle for nearly two years. His asylum application was initially denied by the Migration Agency in July 2013, and his final appeal was filed earlier this week. On Monday, January 12, the Swedish Migration Agency forced him to apply for a Chinese passport despite his lack of Chinese language ability.
NKHR maintains that the Swedish Migration Agency did not sufficiently establish that the boy is not a North Korean refugee to justify his deportation to China. Indeed, NKHR found indication in some of the materials that the boy might be from North Korea. He would be in grave danger if deported to China, should he in fact be North Korean. The treatment of repatriated North Koreans has been well-documented by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry for the DPRK. The Commission found that repatriated refugees are systematically subjected to “persecution, torture, [and] prolonged arbitrary detention.” Those who come into contact with nationals from South Korea “may be forcibly ‘disappeared’ into political prison camps, imprisoned in ordinary prisons or even summarily executed.”
In addition to being incomplete, the boy’s legal team and NKHR identified several problems with the investigation. First, the Migration Agency relied on a faulty language analysis performed by Sprakab, a private Swedish company contracted to assess asylum applicants. Many of the questions asked by the interviewer were leading and prevented the child from answering candidly or providing narrative answers. Moreover, the interviewer has publicly rejected the conclusion in the Sprakab report that the child’s dialect is not North Korean. She is certain he is from North Korea and maintains that she never indicated otherwise. She herself is from North Korea, but left the country decades ago when she was a child.
Additionally, the use of Sprakab itself was questionable. The UK Supreme Court recently condemned the company for giving “wholly inappropriate” judgments on cases involving Somali immigrants. In April 2013, a submission to the UK parliament stated the “methodology, the analysts and the integrity of the Sprakab system as a whole is deeply flawed.”
NKHR also finds the investigation’s reliance on those lacking expertise in North Korea and North Korean refugees to be inappropriate.
The limitations in the Migration Agency’s investigation reflect a broader deficiency in the international community’s ability to properly assess North Korean refugee status. Establishing their identities is often a sensitive task. In South Korea, alleged North Korean defectors undergo a comprehensive investigation by experts. But in Europe, governments lack such a comprehensive assessment mechanism and do not cooperate with South Korean authorities. When European governments such as that of Sweden make an incorrect assessment that could result in a North Korean refugee being handed over to North Korean officials, will those governments be prepared to take responsibility for the fate of that refugee?
The government of Sweden should err on the side of ensuring the boy’s safety and refrain from deporting him to China, while the South Korean government should also take steps to protect the child. If Sweden refuses to protect him, NKHR urges the South Korean government to seek the boy’s deportation to South Korea.
Contact: Michele Park Sonen